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Tips for Marketers on Surviving and Thriving in a Digital Information-Overload Age

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It’s hard being a marketer in 2019!

I know that, and not because I am a marketer. Rather, I am a strategist, measurement specialist and market researcher who works with marketers. I help them drill down to the nitty-gritty, granular detail of how well their marketing is working, understand the stages of the customer journey, and uncover the indicators necessary to make a good marketing program even better.

So, this makes me very familiar with the challenges which many marketers face.

For starters, people who are attracted to marketing are often strong visual creative thinkers and doers. That is good because good marketing needs strong visual creativity. But dilemmas arise because people attracted to marketing are not often mathematically-analytically-oriented as well. Many have just scraped by the math courses in their earlier school days, and still don’t have the numerical literacy.

Such marketers then reach their career days and discover that marketing is much more “quantitative” than formerly thought. And the truth is, this quantitative trend will continue. Marketers need to know their numbers to be competitive and competent. And they need to know how to use those numbers.

Why? Because marketing channels all share this feature: what happens when the reader/viewer/listener who is exposed to the channel is invisible to the marketer.

For example, you – the marketer – can prepare what you think is the world’s best website, but you aren’t in the room when the viewer smiles – or scowls – or frowns – or browses – or bounces. The only way to know what happens is to obtain and use the numbers. It’s the same case for also knowing why things happen – you simply must obtain and interpret the right numbers.

And while it is challenging to use the numbers, it is not impossible.

Marketers without the math-analytic bent may be encouraged to know that even math-analytic experts such as myself struggle with data issues. These problems are definitely real:

  • There is just too much data! It’s overwhelming. Some is simply trivial and doesn’t even matter. Sources do not always agree.
  • Many data sources don’t link marketing choices to purchase (it’s called “attribution”). This is the most critical analysis of marketing programs, and it can take some fancy footwork to get those answers.
  • It’s hard to learn from observing current marketing because the variations from campaign to campaign are enormous. When all the variables change at once, it’s hard to know what made the differences.
  • There’s both strong and weak marketing out there – but sometimes the defining success factors, such as hours of operation, sales staff, or product mix, might lay beyond the boundaries of scope for most marketing teams.
  • Marketing channels are themselves changing. What the numbers measured last year may be different from what they are measuring this year. For example, “streaming on-demand” has dramatically changed entertainment – so how can we compare advertising campaigns from one year to the next, as though they are apples to apples?
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And there are still more issues… but maybe that’s enough for now (before I put you into overwhelm)! The real question is: What’s a marketer to do? Here is my advice, which I am happy to pass along:

1. Accept it.

  • Don’t fight the super-abundance of data in the world today. It won’t change anytime soon. Fighting it wastes your energy.
  • Accept that you need both numbers and creativity to do your job. Both matter.
  • Aim for 60% – 80% assurance in your decisions. 90% might be possible. 100% doesn’t happen.
  • Ultimately, the marketing either works or it doesn’t. So eventually, you will learn.

2. Start to measure. (Sharpen your axe!)

  • If you don’t know how to measure, take a course, read a book, or hire the right consultant (Tenato is here)! Ask colleagues to help you look into multi-platform measurement tools – just give it a try – do something. Just about any form of measuring is better than none. Thinking about how to measure will give you insights about the customer journey. It will make your marketing more intentional.
  • If your math skills aren’t good enough, swallow your pride and ask colleagues for help. Take an Excel course. Take Market Research 101 at your local community college.
  • Develop an experimental mindset. Every campaign is an opportunity to stretch your experiential knowledge.

3. Learn about the industry in which you operate.

  • Any product/service is impacted by forces affecting its industry. This is very important.
  • Marketers are sometimes so married to the success of their own products/services that they don’t pay attention to industry drivers. By learning about trends, baselines, and forces in your industry, you gain insight into the likely fortunes of your product/service. You prevent yourself from having ambitions which are far above or far below reasonable.

4. Stay educated on media.

  • Keep up on the rise and fall of marketing channels. Set aside time to read on whether banner ads really work, take a look at case studies that succeeded with Out-of-Home signage, learn what’s new in radio… and so on. You will be in a better position to choose your media-mix well, which makes attribution easier.

5. Invite serendipity into your world.

  • According to Merriam-Webster, Serendipity is the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Personally, I like serendipity. It keeps life interesting. Say “yes” to unexpected invitations whenever you can. Talk to people. Be curious. Join a meet-up group of marketers and ask people how they measure – what works and what doesn’t.
  • When an opportunity opens up, ask people of different ages what they think, and what changes they are making in their lives. You might find the beginnings of new trends.
  • Take the proverbial nose away from the grindstone. Flip through a magazine in the grocery line checkup. Go to a new movie now and again, and be part of the culture to which you market. Though it’s not scientific research, it will help you ask all the right questions.

6. Stay confident.

  • Before you get overwhelmed by data and measurement, remember that you’re not alone. Bit by bit, making efforts toward measuring, learning and persisting will eventually make you a better data analyst, and therefore a more informed marketer. If you practice habitually, be confident. Even if it feels difficult, with the right attitude and tenacity, you are primed for success.

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Joanne O'Connell
About the Author - Joanne O'Connell
Joanne, O’Connell, BSc, BA, MA, CMRP As a CMRP, (“Certified Marketing Research Professional”, an accreditation from the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association of Canada) Joanne brings over 30 years’ experience in quantitative and qualitative research methods encompassing a vast array of private and public sector clients.